Leadership Void Imperils Defense Systems, Data

Guest Opinion Ronald D. Elliott

Leadership Void Imperils Defense Systems, Data

It's time to speak out regarding the abominable state of affairs at the Office of the Secretary of Defense in managing command and control, communications and intelligence, particularly in running information technologies needed for missions and functions critical to national security.

For more than a year the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I and Chief Information Officer has lacked permanent, consistent leadership and suffered increasing deterioration of its senior staff.

Perhaps worse, confusion in the defense secretary's office regarding whether (or how) to manage C3I and related information technology represents an increasing vulnerability for national security.

While billions were spent through the defense budget on IT during the past year, a series of temporary fill-ins has run the office that oversees that spending and produces sophisticated systems as envisioned by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

No wonder many emerging systems and programs run by separate services and agencies lack the level of security, interoperability and integration needed to achieve the vision.

In an era in which our national leadership and our most senior military leaders are espousing the need for information dominance, it is unbelievable to have the Office of ASD (C3I) and Defense Department Chief Information Officer (CIO) without full-time, qualified leadership for months on end. The lack of consistent direction impacts the goals espoused by our nation's military and civilian leaders, but this leadership void also has engendered gradual deterioration and demoralization of the staff of that office. The latter has led to increased disarray and confusion throughout the defense C3I community. But the spending goes on.

We also should be concerned about attention to governmentwide intelligence information and information systems management.

In recent months, the director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Community Management Staff (CMS) has seen continued change and declining leadership, specifically in the management and oversight of information and information technology systems. Previous DCIs and senior staff placed great importance on community management of information and information technology investments, but attention at that level has waned of late.

Even the Intelligence Systems Secretariat, appointed by a previous generation of leaders to improve management of intelligence computer and communications systems across OSD and DCI domains, drifts in disarray with no permanent director or agreement on its mission.

Like the joint staff, the intelligence community has a vision: to become a more agile intelligence enterprise partly through a joint virtual intelligence environment. But no clearly recognized community information management office has been instituted to achieve that vision.

Nor is attention being paid to administering communitywide information and information technology management consistent with the principles established by the National Performance Review Report and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. As in the defense secretary's office, even the position of CMS executive director is empty, filled by an acting appointee with minimal community management experience.

The review report and Clinger-Cohen Act clearly establish the need for the federal government to exploit information technology and manage government information. Few would argue the management principles they establish, but we must all be amazed at the paucity of attention given by the offices of the defense secretary and DCI to establish and maintain permanent institutional executive managers to apply these principles.

Emmett Paige, the last assistant secretary and Defense Department chief information officer, recognized the need to have uninterrupted stewardship of national defense C3I and related national security information and technology management. To that effect, he gave many months notice of his retirement.

But meager notice was taken, and after months of waiting for a successor to be appointed, Paige left last year. Since then the position has been filled with a series of acting or senior civilian officials.

More alarming, after Paige left, months were wasted through subsequently reconsidered decisions to dismantle the office entirely, leading to further confusion and disarray across the Defense Department and intelligence community.

For appropriately equipped information and information technology management officials to be missing at the defense secretary's office and at the CMS is a situation that reeks of mismanagement.

This deserves the attention of none other than the president of the United States and the nation's citizens whom he has sworn to protect.

Ronald D. Elliott recently retired from the senior executive service of the federal government. He served in the national security arena for 30 years, most recently as director of the Intelligence Systems Secretariat, an organization with responsibilities spanning several executive departments and agencies.

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